Reading Mindy's book, I feel like she is my pal. I think it's something about how she writes--all conversational and goofy. I like it. I picture us hanging out sometime, and chatting about. . .what, exactly?! I don't know. The Office, I guess. She'd probably have lots of funny stories and appreciate mine, too. She just seems like that kind of girl, ya know? She actually reminds me of a friend from high school who I will call Tara. Fun, highly intelligent, edgy, dramatic, and rather into herself, but in an endearing sort of way. I don't know how people pull it off, but some do.
But then, underneath my overall comfort with Mindy as a funny, intellectual, relatable human being is this realization: maybe I wouldn't be so comfortable sitting down and chatting. A familiar anxiety is the undercurrent to all these thoughts about sitting down and chatting with a fun and edgy celebrity. I think the thought running through my mind is, "Could I pull it off? Could I pass for a normal, fun person, or would she find me strange, out of touch, too reserved, uninteresting?"
I think this absolutely comes from my own confusion about who I am supposed to be as a Mormon. Or not who, maybe, but how. President Hinckley said once, quoting Paul from the Bible, that we are to be a "peculiar" people. Okay, got it. Be different. Embrace the different-ness. Be proud of yourself for not drinking alcohol, not swearing, not taking part in low or crass or mean humor. Stick to your resolve not to shop or eat out on the Sabbath. Stand tall, and others will respect you for living your standards. Cool.
It's so easy when we're all at church, like in a giant pep rally, cheering each other on and patting each other on the back. And I think, yes, I can proudly be ME. I can live authentically and others will respect me for it. It is who I want to be, and I believe the world needs more goodness. I really do!
Then, when the Church launched the "I am a Mormon" campaign a few years ago, it felt like an effort to establish ourselves as "normal." Hey, look! We are are just your normal, everyday neighbors living on your street. We pass by each other at the grocery store, we work together, I am that nice kid you went to high school with. I am the successful businessman or artist-turned-stay-at-home-mom. And, just as I embraced the idea of being different, I have also embraced the idea of being the same. Focusing on common ground, building relationships with people of different backgrounds, letting people ask you questions but not forcing your beliefs on anyone.
The challenge, for me, comes in finding the balance. And, quite frankly, this sometimes leaves me paralyzed in social situations. Here are some examples:
Once, carpooling with some fellow grad students to the Atlanta airport, the driver of the car (who I had only just met, but was friends with my friend Alex and had graciously offered to drop us off at the airport and park our car at his house while we were away), commented ironically on one of the "I am a Mormon" billboards lining the freeway. "I wish I was Mormon," he said. "Seriously! They all look so happy." I shifted, knowing that maybe if I wasn't in the car everyone would chuckle or make other ironic comments. Instead, Alex said simply, "Cammie's a Mormon!" I smiled, tensely, and said tentatively, "Yep, it's true!", again fading out into reserved silence. Such a far cry from all those billboard and commercial folks who so proudly proclaim their identity.
The moments of truth, if we can call them that, come and go so quickly. Someone asks, "How do you know Spanish?" and everyone in the room is listening, intrigued.
I respond, vaguely, "I went on a mission for my church." Here in Kentucky, most people don't ask for more details. No, they nod knowingly, presumably because missions are so common among lots of Christian faiths. But we're talking 2-week missions, usually called mission trips. Not the kind of thing you'd become fluent in Spanish for. I recognize these people have no clue what I'm actually talking about, or that they've come *this close* to knowing something that feels hugely important about me. The conversation is cut short by my vagueness, and nobody finds out I was a Mormon missionary for 18 months in Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Curacao. That I actually speak Spanish and Papiamento, a Dutch-Spanish pigeon language that only a handful of non-natives--Mormon missionaries, usually--ever learn.
What does this have to do with Mindy Kaling, exactly? Ummm, nothing, really. But I think she's cool, and I want to be comfortable enough in my own skin that we could sit down and have a nice chat. And why on earth not? We both love The Office, and everyone knows that's sufficient basis for a great friendship.
I think ultimately it will have something to do with letting go of my own self-censoring mechanism.
And yes, I think I could be a talk show host. It's not all that different from being a therapist, really, in that you get to have completely one-sided conversations with people and they almost never have to know anything about you. I've never articulated that before, but I think there's some security in it for me. I think it's time for me to work on taking my filter down.
If you've stuck with me throughout this post, you are a trooper. I would love to hear your thoughts. How have you learned to be true to yourself across different contexts and situations? Please teach me. :)